Cybernetics And Human Knowing. Vol. 15, no. 2, pp.


Niklas Luhmann as an Empirical Sociologist
Methodological Implications of the System Theory of Society
Cristina Besio1 and Andrea Pronzini2

Although its theoretical fruitfulness is widely recognized, Niklas Luhmann’s system theory is still considered unable to guide empirical research. We think that this criticism underestimates the potential of system theory. Starting from the discernment that in the works of Luhmann not only epistemological considerations and methodological suggestions, but also the practical application of methodological procedures, are present we highlight the empirical side of Luhmann’s system theory. Research inspired by system theory can be empirical as long as the following prerequisite is fulfilled: the research should embrace epistemological premises which overcome the presumption of a direct access to the world “as it is.” The latter should be replaced by the acknowledgment of the existence of different perspectives and of the contingency of every observation (including empirical ones). At the methodological level this has the consequence that questions of “what it is” and the correlated aim to collect additional data in order to uncover additional facts are no longer central. On the contrary, what becomes crucial is the observation of “how the world is being observed” through the contingent criteria of the observed social systems, while relying on the contingent criteria of the observing social system.

Introduction Although the system theory of society developed by the German sociologist Niklas Luhmann has been very fruitful in describing typical modern phenomena like science, the market economy, politics and so on, it risks facing a sad destiny: admired and discussed by academics interested in the history of sociology on the one side, ignored by empirical researchers on the other side. Undoubtedly one reason for this is the same one that caused Parsons’ sociological theory to be scarcely used in research: Such abstract theoretical approaches are considered unable to steer empirical investigations. Indeed, the methodological aspects are at the core of the confrontation with Luhmann’s theory. In fact, frequently critique of this theory stresses its distance from an empirical approach. On the other hand, starting from the recognition of the validity of the theoretical construct, many attempts to make system theory usable in empirical social research have flourished (see Bora, 1994; Nassehi, 1998; Nassehi & Saake, 2002; Sutter, 1997; Castrignano, 1992; Schneider, 2000). Our paper contributes to the discussion on the relationship between system theory and research methods. We ask: Which characteristics should methods have in order to
1. Cristina Besio, Institute of Sociology, Technische Universität Berlin, Franklinstr. 28/29, 10587 Berlin, Germany. 2. Andrea Pronzini, Faculty of Humanities, University of Luzern, Kasernenplatz 3, 6000 Luzern, Switzerland.

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Cristina Besio and Andrea Pronzini

be suitable for system theory? The epistemological innovations introduced by this theory make it necessary to identify methodological rules that suit its theoretical architecture. In order to be able to reflect on the features of methods we have to primarily stress the specificity of the epistemological premises of system theory. In other words, the central nerve of the methodological problem does not consist in the methodology itself, but is deeply rooted in knowledge theory (Luhmann, 1987, p. 36). Within system theory, theory, methods and empirical reference each have a specific and not the usual meaning. Our first task is to stress this through some reflections on observation (part 1). In a second step we track down the main tenets of systemic methodology (part 2). By doing this, we systematize suggestions that can already be found in Luhmann’s texts. As a matter of fact, in the works of Luhmann, in addition to clear methodological indications, there is a continuous application of an empirical method that suits the theory (Besio & Pronzini, 1999; Nassehi, 2000). We will also point out that if the specific methodological assumptions of system theory are taken into account, empirical procedures which stem from other research traditions can be used in combination with system theory. 1. The epistemological roots of sociological empirical research 1.1 An alternative to the distinction between subject and object In order to understand what part methods can play in a research programme guided by system theory it is crucial to discuss how the relation between observation and reality is understood in this context. Relying on the work of George Spencer Brown, Luhmann argues that an observation is possible only because an observer uses a specific distinction in order to indicate one side of that distinction (this and not that, cold and not warm, true and not false). The very important consequence is that a direct observation of objects is impossible. There is no objective and universally valid observation; any observation depends on the distinction made by an observer: “There exists in reality no ‘where’ for the ‘there’ to be. Nor is there any ‘when’. All these are constructions of imagination, inventions of apparently stable formations for the apparent appearances” (SpencerBrown, 1994, pp. vii-viii). The use of one distinction is actually the condition of the observation itself (Luhmann, 1990a). Consequently, the results of observation will vary on the basis of the distinctions the observer refers to. Every observation relies on a distinction and system theory is no exception. System theory is based on a contingent difference: the distinction system/ environment. This distinction replaces the distinction subject/object which characterizes classical epistemology. This substitution has far-reaching epistemological consequences. As long as observations are based on the distinction subject/object the world is considered an object which is separated from the subject and which acts as the ultimate reality. It is assumed that reality exists independently from observers and that every observer who does not make mistakes should produce the same description of the world (Luhmann, 1990a, p. 78). One’s perspective is

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Luhmann as an Empirical Sociologist 11 completely different when the leading distinction is system/environment: The choice of this distinction shatters the idea of an objective world and of a subject with essential qualities. The system cannot reach the world directly because it cannot escape from the boundary set by its own operations. This is the reason why system theory argues that the world always remains unobservable. 218243). For these distinctions there is no direct correlation in the world. 24-70. 1996). Interpretative approaches such as symbolic interactionism. 1990b. 1992. This means that sociological interpretations have to be consistent with lay interpretations. One is aware that the hypotheses are a construction of the scientific observer. Copyright (c) Imprint Academic 2005 For personal use only -.not for reproduction . 289-309). 2006. The goal is to check the presence/ absence of some variables. 2005. 2005. These reflections have far reaching consequences also for empirical research which can no longer be considered to have a privileged access to reality. This also pertains to qualitative methods despite their differences in comparison to the quantitative approach (Wenturis et al. empirical observations are still considered at least good approximations to real phenomena. discourse analysis and others maintain that social reality is symbolically constructed. but their truth or falsity is treated as empirically provable: “Right” results must match with reality. pp. pp. The persistence of the assumption that reality is reachable can be tracked down in different qualitative methods. to quantify them and to observe their correlations. Lamnek. 242-273. 53-84). pp. Schnell et al. 71). p. The specific observation of the researcher is not allowed to take the place of the observation of the observed actor. In system theory there is no transcendental subject and the world loses its status of an object of observation whose essence could be disclosed by a constant increase in scientific knowledge. pp. 1992. but a system can construct its own reality on it (Luhmann. This can be clearly seen by the idea of research as a test of previously defined hypotheses which characterizes empirical research based on quantitative methods (Kromrey. Stating that the world remains unobservable means that the knowing system always has to use a distinction in order to observe. Observations are always observer-dependent. fieldwork ethnography. 265-313. Empirical research has trouble giving up the distinction subject/object (Luhmann. Research based on quantitative methods breaks down reality into variables whose values can be measured. pp. Even though the naive assumptions of the first positivism are left behind by recognizing that every perception is pre-structured and mediated by the observer.. Their idea is that the world is pre-structured by competent observers. pp. 1983. the qualitative approach calls for the reconstruction of the point of view of the observed actors. Methodologically. for example. Lamnek. Every kind of knowledge production— including the scientific—originates from a system that differentiates itself from an environment that can be known only by internal constructions of an observing system. The researcher has to understand the observed milieu “from within” (Geertz. 252-254). in hermeneutics (Esposito. 2005. p.. The qualitative researcher interprets the world from the perspective of the subjects of his interpretation (Lamnek. a particular construction is made by the observer (a system) that differentiates itself from the environment. pp. 2005. The world cannot be known. 230).

This is possibly one of the most important tenets of operative constructivism and also what differentiates it from other constructivist approaches. 1990b. But this search for an agreement means not acknowledging the incommensurability of observations. 605). The distinction between operation and observation is at the heart of Luhmann’s knowledge theory. With operation Luhmann describes the basic elements of systems which reproduce themselves by autopoiesis. Observations are a particular form of autopoietic operation. p.2 The non-arbitrariness of observations When empirical observations are understood as operations of an observer that constructs its own world. Different points of view are levelled. the text has a univocal sense that steers the multiplicity of interpretations (Esposito. There are other systems (like psychic and social systems) that are made of observing operations. There are systems that are made of operations that cannot observe (like biological systems). Even though it allows for different interpretations. 1996.not for reproduction .12 Cristina Besio and Andrea Pronzini Although its main concern is no longer the reconstruction of the motives and perspectives of individuals. Copyright (c) Imprint Academic 2005 For personal use only -. find convergence? This is necessary only if one thinks that there is a world which exists independently from an observer. in our case a text. However. not even theory has a privileged access to reality. p. There is no observation without autopoiesis. 36). 229). 1. 1997. as in system theory. it has to be stressed that an observation is always an operation of a system (Esposito.3 The answer is much more difficult and can only be found by seriously and consequently walking the path of operative constructivism to the very end. hermeneutics still sticks to the following basic assumption: the uniqueness of the sense of the text and the possibility of reaching a consensus on its interpretation. Operative constructivism means that every observation is at the same time also an operation of a system. the whole question about objectivity is couched in a very different manner: if we cannot refer to a given world. as if different researchers were a unique subject (Luhmann. But why must different observations which focus on the same object. p. The sense of the text is treated as positive data which guides the search for a rational agreement in the research process (Luhmann. how can one then distinguish between a true and false scientific statement? According to Luhmann’s theory it is not even possible to appeal to a higher state of theory in respect to empirical observations: indeed. In order to fully grasp the methodological implications of the epistemological premises of Luhmann’s system theory we need to present some pillars of its operative constructivism. The idea of higher status of theory was a central assumption of Adorno’s approach. Every observation has an 3. For a brief critique of the “Frankfurter Schule” see Luhmann (1990b). In this framework the process of knowledge creation is based on observations (as described above). That means that every observation (itself an operation) has to connect to other operations of the system. 1992a). how can scientific observations control their own production of knowledge? When one abandons the idea of an objective world and of inter-subjective consensus.

whereupon the initial distinction can be observed in this domain. second-order observations are always also first-order observations (Brier. On the contrary: The only one ultimate reality is the reality of the operations of the system. p. Because every observation made by the observer is at the same time an operation of a system. In fact. p. This means that the condition of observing (the distinction itself) is unobservable.). 2007. in order to observe. Also the distinction between knowledge and things is a distinction made by an observer.” (Thyssen. What has been excluded is not observed. 1993a. 1992a. One added value of this distinction is that the observing system is not seen as something totally separate from the observed phenomena. 1995b. This is an implication of considering observation as an indication of one side of a distinction. This has consequences: A domain of cognition of an operating system comes into being. p. The subject is replaced by the observer. it has been argued that a major problem of Luhmann’s epistemology Copyright (c) Imprint Academic 2005 For personal use only -. Having no access to reality does not mean that the differences are not real. Esposito. p. whenever we are observing in the framework of system theory we observe operating systems which are in the world. it is precisely the paradox which allows for observing: “The world is observable because it is unobservable” (Luhmann. When a system observes it uses a distinction in order to indicate one side (this and not that) but the distinction itself is unobservable. 1990a. but only an observer can describe operations. A distinction implies that further operations are necessary in order to observe observations. p. a system has to operate: “Assumptions about being presuppose an observer who has to be in order to observe. which is not an entity detached from the observed objects. 46). In Luhmann’s system theory at first glance everything seems to depend on observation: “How things are” is nothing but the result of an observation (Luhmann. 140). 1988). 68 ff. 42). However. 2004. 68 ff. Luhmann maintains the empirical Faktizität (actuality) of the observing systems. to indicate their leading distinction as one side of a new distinction. This paradoxical construction deserves a very close attention. Indeed the distinction between observation and operation marks the paradoxical foundation of system theory. p. whereas systemic constructivism takes another path: knowledge is possible exactly because there is no direct access to reality (Luhmann. by recognizing that all knowledge depends on a subject.not for reproduction . In other terms. but its functioning cannot be explained by reducing it to the operation: The process of distinguishing and indicating should also be considered. In addition. that is. As a consequence. Only because systems reproduce themselves by operations that rely on specific distinctions are they able to observe the world.Luhmann as an Empirical Sociologist 13 operational level.. 11). the observer is in the world (Luhmann. Classical knowledge theories which came after Kant’s metaphysics. but by drawing a distinction the system has started to operate. but it is a beginning: It is an indication that severs the unobservable world. Every observation is always a specific operation of a system. A distinction may seem naïve or dogmatic. ask the question of how knowledge is possible in spite of the dependence of reality on cognition structures. The paradoxical foundation can also be expressed as follows: in order to observe a system has to operate (an observation is always an operation of a system).

methods. moreover. System theory is therefore nothing but communication that participates in the reproduction of the system of science and therefore has to connect to scientific communications. to follow the path of Luhmann’s operative constructivism and to show what consequences it has for sociological research. how they unfold (but do not solve!) the paradox. 47). There is no solution to the paradox offered by Luhmann. p. rules for inferences. Luhmann’s solution is a third way between realism and constructivism. rational criteria. In other words. indeed it is a sociological way.4 Starting with the above mentioned considerations we maintain that the absence of absolute principles does not mean that the theory is open to every observation. and (b) constraints which depend on the structural coupling of a system with other systems in its environment. Luhmann focuses on observing how systems operate in the presence of the paradox. specific limits are set to the range of possible observations.not for reproduction . This last plays a central role in the work of Spencer Brown who also renounced a philosophical foundation for his calculus. Ontology comes into being only thanks to the operations of a specific system that construct its own world by severing the world in two (system/ environment) by connecting operations to operations. For science this means the internal construction of connected concepts. 2007). scientific observations strengthen or weaken each other in a recursive process. we prefer to speak of operative. Does it mean that the environment has no relevance at all? Luhmann 4. Instead of speaking of open ontology. on the contrary. The internal setting of boundaries is the first mechanism of control over the observations. disciplines and so on. science) can operate with it. On the contrary. (b) A description of reality works until the observing system (e. A system that has started to operate in an environment (otherwise there would be no system) comes into being. contingent ontology. If one then wants to indicate an operative way of dealing with the paradox (and dealing with it does not mean to resolve it) one has to address the concept of time. all the attempts to make it work are contingent and depend on the conditions of acceptability of a system (Luhmann. (a) Because every observation made by a system is an operation which has to connect to other operations of the system. procedures. If one does not accept it and looks for a philosophical solution. p.14 Cristina Besio and Andrea Pronzini is that it avoids a philosophical solution to the problem of the paradox (Thyssen. and. replacing this with the paradox itself. (c) there are differences between distinctions. 1995b. develops the capability of self-observation. Observed systems and the observer “exist” only because they mutually and paradoxically presuppose each other. 2004). We choose.. Copyright (c) Imprint Academic 2005 For personal use only -. Instead. 8). in the case of communication systems.g. the paradoxical foundation of system theory can be interpreted in terms of an open ontology (see Brier. 2006. (a) there are constraints which depend on the internal dynamics of a system. Indeed operative constructivism means accepting the paradoxical foundation of knowledge without trying or even feeling the need to solve the paradox. As the foundation of every observation is not a structure or a principle but a paradox. It also develops structures which make some connections more probable and others less probable. but it can be handled in time (Thyssen. Choosing operative constructivism means renouncing the search for an ultimate philosophical foundation.

etc. structural coupling limits the possible structures of a system. 1997. but in order to communicate about them social systems rely on the perception of individuals. The observing system can keep on observing only as long as the distinctions used do not hinder its operations (its autopoiesis) in its environment. In the long run.5 The concept allows the explanation of the relationship between a system and other systems in its environment. Social systems are structurally coupled with psychic systems: this means that social systems can internally construct information that goes back to irritation caused by psychic systems.” The world kicks back only in the sense that it tolerates some constructions and does not tolerate others. However. but mediated through the structures 5. As a consequence. sets constraints on the system. not every perception is relevant for science. The concept pertains to different aspects of the environment and explains. as a theme. 92 ff. Communication can be “irritated” only by what has been seen. This is also true for scientific observations. In other words: the idea of structural coupling is only another formulation for the paradox of the operative constructivism. language is a structure which connects psychic and social systems and enables both to self-irritate on the basis of linguistic events which happen in the other system. for example. Of course. the fact that a system keeps on operating means that the system is tolerated by its environment. According to Luhmann. which has to operate as system in an environment in order to observe. The world is not a direct source of information for a system. even scientific. …). Science has to discriminate between everyday and methodologically guided perceptions. The world does not “kick back” as an objective world that tells the observer if the representations she or he made are “true” or “false. So the human mind evolved in a way which is compatible with modern society. heard and so on from psychic systems (which are in the environment) and not directly from nature. The structures of the two systems are connected in a way which canalizes specific irritations in a highly selective manner. The environment tolerates a limited range of structures (theory. the fact that society can operate in only a very limited range of temperatures or can only operate as long as the participating persons are not too ill. The description in terms of temperatures or illness is a construction of an observing system. For example. To explain this we refer to the concept of structural coupling (Luhmann. pp. Copyright (c) Imprint Academic 2005 For personal use only -. descriptions. To clarify this for the case of scientific observation: Every communication. pp. has no direct contact to the world. structurally coupled systems evolve in a way which suits the autopoiesis of both systems (otherwise they stop operating. 9-11). ending their existence). perceptions of the latter can unleash effects on scientific communication. It keeps on operating in an environment.). The effects are never direct. methods. This is the way in which the world. this leads science to select communicative representations which are also tolerable for perception (that is for psychic systems). Whenever systems are structurally coupled an operation of one system provokes self-irritation in the other system which then begins to process information. for example.not for reproduction . & 779 ff. Communication can refer to natural phenomena. 2004. although it is not directly accessible for the observing systems. In the long run.Luhmann as an Empirical Sociologist 15 insists that the environment counts (Thyssen.

as such it is not different from the systems it sees in its own environment. on the other hand. Furthermore only some specific forms of knowledge are compatible with the structural coupling of a system. Moreover. and then an investigation on the possible and significant statistical combinations is carried out (Luhmann. The classical distinction subject/object generates an unbridgeable distance between the observing subject and the observed object. 52). science would still not be able to gain access to the world because perception is also the result of an autopoietic network of operations of an operating system. the distinction system/environment maintains that the observer is also a system. Indeed. psychic systems are also structurally coupled with other systems. 1990a. p. system theory can define and describe the contingent nature of knowledge.3 Theory /empirical approach vs. and distinctions that do not. Indeed. research guided by system theory produces knowledge while seeking to increase both the awareness of contingency and the non-arbitrariness of combinations at the same time. but as a chance. methods often act as a substitute for theory. even system theory can only see what it can see. (a). there are great differences. An undesirable consequence is the widespread practice of ignoring theory when describing data.not for reproduction . In contrast. but it matters which distinctions are used. the observation of nature is far from unconstrained: not every hypothesis is accepted from the scientific community. p. Data are collected.16 Cristina Besio and Andrea Pronzini of science (such as theories or concepts). considering both theory and method as structures of a system “the degree of empiricism . But even if this would be possible. that allow the observer to observe itself. Obviously. System theory forces to the refutation of this asymmetry in favouring methods against theories. (b) and (c) show that knowledge is not arbitrary. A theory of knowledge based on the “anything goes” approach is not plausible. In fact. As a consequence. of a theoretical selection does not seem to be different or smaller than the one of a statistical or empirical research … In neither of these cases Copyright (c) Imprint Academic 2005 For personal use only -.. science cannot import human perception. In other words.). in this case consciousness. As a consequence. not every world state can be perceived with human senses. and so on. On the one hand. it stresses that scientific knowledge can never be arbitrary. in sociology the production and analysis of data is preferred by far to theoretical analysis. theory/methods As methods seem to guarantee proximity to reality. in particular with the neurophysiological processes of the brain which limit the development of psychic structures. 369 f. Only some forms of knowledge are able to connect with the operations of science (Luhmann. 1997. 1.. Non-arbitrariness stems from the operational constraints of a system that differentiates itself from an environment. not every perception can be formulated in words. The distinction system/ environment can re-enter itself and therefore allows for self-observation. but the partiality of observation is not treated as a limit. in particular between distinctions that can be applied to themselves. Instead of a theoretical description supported by data one finds descriptions consisting almost exclusively of data aggregations. (c) There are no unquestionable distinctions.

arbitrariness. etc. once again. 1990a. starting from an understanding of method as a tool for applying truth values.4 The function of theory: an example The above allows us to point out—against the widespread idea that system theory lacks methodology—that. in the terms of the theory itself. experimental settings. which also are programs of science. allows for building up expectations of where data can be found and also to ask questions concerning specific texts.. that allow for distinguishing between true or false statements. 577). it cannot neglect either theory or methods. p. Theory can help to gain a new understanding of reality by elaborating surprising comparisons. p. This is why theories can be replaced by considering the results that come from the use of methods. To take this into consideration properly. Theory allows us to choose which data can be considered. Theories and methods set for each other specific limits. but is a communication form.g. excluding the attribution of both values and of a third value. In his observations of social systems Luhmann never works without theory and. excluding. The specificity of a theory calls for a specific method (Luhmann. As a matter of fact. Assigning truth values to statements by the means of methods is a genuine scientific operation which does not take place in other contexts. They are rules and procedures which allow a judgement if a statement is true or false. 1990a. Therefore it makes no sense to keep distinguishing between theory and empirical approach in this respect and to pretend that the latter has an exclusive access to reality. 1999). 1990a. Truth is not the agreement between assertions and reality. It is important to stress that assigning “true” value to a statement does not mean that a correspondence to reality has been discovered. instruments. p. 1989.) which have been defined as correct by science. A methodologically controlled operation needs a selfobservation of science which estimates which procedures are suitable to attribute a value (true or false) to propositions. we argue. Methods do not allow for proof if the theory corresponds to the real world. Theories and methods are scientific structures with different functions and must always be used together (Luhmann. p. Understanding by using a theory means the application of distinctions that goes beyond common sense. 408). within system theory methods has a crucial role. rules for sampling.Luhmann as an Empirical Sociologist 17 can one pretend that there is a direct reference to reality” (Corsi.not for reproduction . 1. An observation based on methods relies on procedures (e. but this reference is in both cases nothing more than a product of the operations of a system. Theories. are instead descriptions of the world whose function is the comparison between facts in more and more improbable terms (Luhmann. 403). Methods are programs (structures) of an autopoietic system. without methods. the texts of Luhmann are filled with Copyright (c) Imprint Academic 2005 For personal use only -. methods establish the rules that have to be followed in order to apply the code true/false to propositions. As system theory strives to produce scientific knowledge. we argue that the distinction theory/ empirical approach has to be replaced by the distinction theory/methods (Besio & Pronzini. 403). Theory and methods both talk about an external reality. science.

The following hypothesis guides the analysis of the development of temporal semantics in modernity: the increasing complexity of society at the operational level implies an increase of the “temporalization” of society. As a consequence. 235-300). understood as presence and therefore related to something that lasts. economy. Luhmann observes social semantics and structures. Time can no longer be considered as a circle that is the same for all observers. With the differentiation of modern society in functional systems. which descriptions have more plausibility.not for reproduction . It makes the work of Bourdieu particularly interesting for empirical research inspired by system theory. too. Operative temporalization of complexity means. 6. loses its plausibility. that with functional differentiation the different contexts of society (politics. in order to not lose coordination with the social structures. Under these conditions. This has far-reaching consequences for semantics. If the present has no duration. time semantics must change. when the present is conceived as a momentary event with no relations. which distinctions are at the basis of communication processes. but rather to explore texts in search of tendencies that theory sees as relevant and which it can meaningfully interpret. for example. to which the idea of circular time is related. Semantics develop from a spatial concept of the present. how can one explain that things show a sense of continuity? It is the idea of creatio continua which gives an initial answer. and then he connects the whole to hypotheses on the structural evolution of society. System theory steers the reading of historical materials and allows for complex comparisons between semantics and the structures of older society and modern society. modern society has to temporalize its operative connections. 2. This premise is also used by Bourdieu in his empirical analyses. Copyright (c) Imprint Academic 2005 For personal use only -. 25). pp. science. Later on comes the idea of historicized time and of the temporal horizons of past and future. which will allow for explaining connections between events and considering the vast amount of possible combinations of different elements in time. We do this by referring to the example of temporal semantics (Luhmann.) operate within time-frames that cannot be coordinated with each other or with the time-frame of everyday life. With temporalization of society Luhmann points out the fact that it is impossible to connect all the communications that take place in society at the same time. its theoretical assumptions and one’s own role as an observer (Brier. For example. The idea that empirical observation is always theory-guided implies that in the framework of system theory one has to be explicit about this hypotheses. the problem of explaining the relations between things and different events is raised.6 He analyzes which communicative forms have been preserved in written texts. 2007. In his analysis Luhmann also identifies which problems arise when semantics vary. almost vanishing present. etc. p. We highlight only few points: 1. 1980.18 Cristina Besio and Andrea Pronzini methodological suggestions and also with concrete applications of methods. to a momentary. the steadiness of the essence of things. In the next section we will focus on methods. On the basis of theory-guided comparisons. But first we show how theory can inspire empirical observation. society has to connect communications according to different time frames. The task of Luhmann’s analysis is not to test a hypothesis by controlling of a representative sample as to whether it confirms theoretical expectations. That is to say.

g. 2. the interplay between theory and methods (2. although very scrupulous in collecting data.g. One can better understand the importance of trivialities when taking into account the question of complexity.not for reproduction . for example in the article “Die Knappheit der Zeit und die Vordringlichkeit des Befristeten”: “Zeitdruck ist eine verbreitete Erscheinung“(time-pressure is a Copyright (c) Imprint Academic 2005 For personal use only -.4).1. A question arises: which data are suited to be reinterpreted through the lens of system theory? Which are the trivialities? Instead of making data collections that aim to take an increasingly complete picture of a given social world.) one finds examples that support the hypothesis of a variation of time semantics. Theory explains data. in texts (letters.. do not function any more. it has to include more than just a limited portion of society. one can refer to socially uncontested facts. Theory can also show how different concepts are connected to each other and how the development of specific concepts (e. 2. though he does not exclude making data collections. namely trivialities. Trivialities allow the theory to observe in more sociologically informative ways. In this case.. which rely on a calculable temporal horizon.Luhmann as an Empirical Sociologist 19 3.6) and some examples of how empirical methods stemming from other research traditions can be used (2. usually works with a limited set of variables on the basis of ceteris paribus clauses. Often he starts with a triviality. The method of system theory On the basis of the epistemological premises described above we stress some methodological implications for system theory concerning: the typology of empirical materials to be used (2. Luhmann. attitudes like prudentia. In order to face complexity. As a matter of fact. the typology of comparisons (2. Theory tells the researcher what she or he can expect from structural developments of society. the unities of analysis (2.1 Explanation of trivialities Perhaps the suspicion that the systemic approach neglects empirical research depends on the frequent statement made by Luhmann that one has to refer to so-called trivialities and that in many cases it can be advisable to make use of observations already made by others instead of collecting data ex novo. Empirical research. which kind of questions can be asked (2. and make them revealing in the light of theory. This is very problematic from the point of view of system theory.3). considers analysis of existing data particularly worthwhile. Because system theory aims to describe society as a system.7).7 The examples of triviality in Luhmann’s texts are manifold. everything is perceived as constantly changing and the future is seen as highly uncertain. 2.5). For example. Trivialities are characteristics of society that are immediately observable and that often. concerning the “right behavior”). if the present is reduced to a vanishing event. system theory needs other tools: these are mainly theoretical concepts and so-called trivialities. novels etc.2). that is to say always with a limited portion of society. as treated as obvious. concepts of time) can favour the development of other concepts (e. no one has the need to explain.

for example. As far as trivialities are concerned. p. the increasing disaffection of the electorate with political parties can nowadays be considered as a triviality. Trivialities do not need to be questioned and are considered only in order to gain more exact measurements. competition.not for reproduction . 1990. this kind of learning has great relevance when. Starting from this point Luhmann explains how this orientation to time began. evaluation and so on. For the majority of sociological research. p. deadlines determine the rhythm of the our work. pp. 1968. Socialization is a continuously ongoing process based on the structural coupling between communication and consciousness (Luhmann. to strengthen the theoretically deducted assertion that minor events in a social system can have unforeseen consequences in others. education is a specific communication form which has to be organized (e. children learn to deal with organizations. Luhmann (1990c. folders with the sign “urgent” or “very urgent” populate every office-desk. He describes the development of subcultures in schools as a normal socialization process. System theory refers to trivialities in order to make its uncommon interpretations plausible. Luhmann stresses “Das alles bedarf vor den Lesern dieser Zeitschrift keines Nachweis” (Translation: “this certainly does not require any further elucidation for the readers of this journal”). because there is already an agreement on it. The majority of sociological research does not feel the need to explain trivialities because its main goal is the knowledge of the real world. 3). For example. I think they can be readily tested and validated merely observing what goes on in social life right under oneís nose” (Baugh. For example. 34). the well known fact that children in schools do not only or primarily learn the lesson content but develop their own culture is considered by pedagogical approaches to be a serious problem in the educational process. p. Blumer once stated that: “The premises of symbolic interactionism are simple. Youth cultures supposedly have to be understood and changed in order to better educate children. it is not interesting. in which systems it is found and which functions it has. if something is trivial. This is the reason why classes which aim to educate always have the collateral consequence that they socialize in an uncontrolled manner (Luhmann. Copyright (c) Imprint Academic 2005 For personal use only -. 79). 48 ff). Mead and Herbert Blumer. 2002. p. 2002. Moreover. For Luhmann this specific kind of learning cannot be avoided.g. For system theory the contrary holds true. which is a minor event in the economic system (when compared with the enormous transactions which take place every day). Yet. This interpretation is possible because system theory sees education as a specific form of (self)socialization. Theory sheds a new light on trivialities. 222) gives examples which sound very enlightened such as the following: a small payment to a politician. sociological research aims to precisely quantify the disaffection or to show differences between or in a nation and to connect the disaffection to the socio7.20 Cristina Besio and Andrea Pronzini common phenomenon) (Luhmann. can become a scandal in politics. Correspondingly. One has to keep in mind that reference to trivialities is not exclusive to system theory and is also specific to classics such as George H. Since trivialities are socially accepted facts. in schools) and has to take place in specific interactions (classrooms). sociology does not think that they need to be further explained. He reminds us how the quick glance at the watch or organizer are routines gestures. For example.

refers to some intuitive knowledge that has been confirmed in studies on attribution processes. Luhmann himself offers a list of such factors referring to numerous nice or current examples from the press or media-studies. while. Luhmann. If one observes a social accepted phenomenon from the point of view of a theory of society. p. for example. these studies are based on content-analysis and unravel so-called news values. on the other hand. If. immediacy or drama). One further example: In order to describe how mass media select information. Reference to this material is not reductive because the same data can be observed from new points of view that are very different from the one for which they had been collected.not for reproduction .g. one could therefore investigate the peculiar connection between formal organizations. 2. of facts that are already taken for granted by the research community. things are different. Copyright (c) Imprint Academic 2005 For personal use only -. p.g. A typical problem of secondary analysis is that if the data have not been collected by considering a specific hypothesis. function system. Luhmann interprets this well-known fact by the means of the theoretically developed distinction risk/danger (Luhmann.. smoking or driving fast). Often. These are criteria used by the media to distinguish between information and non-information (e. Indeed. It is known that nowadays people are normally more open to accept risks that result from their own earlier decisions (e. 1993b).2 Secondary analysis The analysis of trivialities sometimes turns out to be a secondary analysis.. they hardly accept risks imposed by third parties (e. if one has theoretical hypotheses and wants to verify these with the help of data. trivialities consist.g. one treats data constructed by empirical research as material that needs a theoretical explanation. Sometimes examples are limit cases or counterfactual.. 1991). new comparisons are possible: One can assume that the political disaffection is part of a broader disaffection of modern society with its formal organization (see e.g.. quantitative data. and so forth. on the contrary. one has to ask questions that are reality specific. construction of new polluting industries near their own home). 37). These kinds of analyses mainly add a variety of quantifications to the description of the topic. pp.Luhmann as an Empirical Sociologist 21 demographic characteristics of the electorate. The latter can comprehend knowledge of milieu participants (Luhmann. Luhmann (1996b. the researcher may not be able to find the information he is looking for (Boudon. 53-81) refers to empirical studies on news values. namely. Luhmann. and society and then concentrate on the more specific case of political parties. data collected by means of different techniques such as participant observation or text analysis. Typically. 1997. 37). 1996. In other words: system theory uses data produced by observing with other distinctions as material for its second-order observations. Starting from this. System theory takes a completely different approach to trivialities.

Brier. methodologically. as it allows for the self-referential processing of communication. Understanding is highly relevant here. Communication is described as the synthesis of three distinctions: utterance. how can communication be observed? Our answer is that one can observe chains of communication. As a consequence. Understanding is crucial for communication. Psychic and social systems are based respectively on thinking and communication and are found in each other’s environment. but it is not visible. Communication can be reconstructed as a sequential chain of operations (Schneider. the theory asserts that communication (and not action) is the basic element of social systems. Systems differentiate themselves from the environment reproducing a specific operation. radically distinguishing between psychic and social 8. The connection (Anschluss) between communications is at the core of the analysis of social events. Empirical observation which focuses on communication does not try to detect the motives of individuals. 2007. But does this also apply to system theory? Is system theory also forced to reduce communication to the category of action? The answer is no: Theoretically. following utterances can find a connection only starting from understanding. p. the researcher has to revert to communication. However.3 “Only communication can communicate”8 Several sociological approaches analyze communication as composed of actions of individuals that have specific motives and intentions. Social systems are forced to observe themselves in a more simple form: that is as a sequence of actions. social phenomena cannot be explained by the analysis and combination of actions and intentions. the researcher has to observe how communication sequences develop and process meaning. understanding can be analyzed through its consequences for utterances. This is our methodological solution to the fact that we cannot observe communication directly. units of observation are no longer individuals. Sociological analysis concentrates on social systems. 2000. This is the reason why. but communication can only be inferred (Luhmann. This is considered impossible: In order to know the motives of individuals. p.22 Cristina Besio and Andrea Pronzini 2. semantics and roles are used. processes and structures. 261). but communications. At the level of methods. information and understanding of the distinction between utterance and information. According to system theory. Observing the connection we can empirically infer from communication. 131) in which communicative structures such as programs. It is not enough that someone writes or says something. because of their intransparency. Luhmann (1996a. But. In other words: A social system features a sequence of self-referring communications. System theory starts with another assumption: the distinction system/environment. Communication takes place when someone understands that someone else has intentionally uttered something. 226. in this framework. However. 1984.not for reproduction . Copyright (c) Imprint Academic 2005 For personal use only -. 41). Individuals are considered the primary source in order to study the social level. At this point an explication is needed. Social systems are not able to directly observe communication. Communication can exist only if the distinction between action and information is understood.

By means of the concept of structural coupling the relationship between social and psychic systems can be studied. 1990c. at the same time he assumes that he observes how the observed system sets its own delimitation and in this way differentiates itself from its environment (Luhmann. In other words. communication is always the contingent result of complex systems. 1995a. An observation based on the subject/object distinction treats the observed system as something objective. One can. While a focus on motives overemphasizes their causal role. one still would not be able to explain how society works. From the point of view of Luhmann’s theory. on the contrary. on one side. semantics and structures. for example. Moreover. but there are only operating systems which observe. So the social world is observed at the first order. analyze which consequences communication has for them (Luhmann. Communications cannot be treated as fact. 9. The researcher can focus on specific communication processes. namely as if the observations made by communication were objects (Esposito. one sets different research priorities. It becomes interesting to observe how motives function in communication. 1996c. This applies to both observing systems: the observing observer and the observed observer. the individuals do not become insignificant. Interviews are also communicative situations where what can be observed is only communication. p. While a first-order observation means observing things as facts. 65) Copyright (c) Imprint Academic 2005 For personal use only -. focusing on communication stresses that no individual has the power to steer communication.9 2. 344). They are in the environment of social systems and are an essential precondition for their development. a second-order observation means to observe observations and to highlight their selectivity and contingency. Motives themselves can be studied as forms of communication that refer to psychological conditions. Starting from the assumption that social systems are an emergent order of reality which cannot be reduced to participating individuals.not for reproduction . whereas persons remain quite stable. It is the choice of a specific distinction which regulates what has to be included or excluded by the observation. System theory stresses that the observation of observers relies on specific distinctions. One can notice that. This way the person/motive distinction provides the social systems with the capacity for both continuity and discontinuity (Luhmann. 1992b. p. it is always the realization of something that could also be different. even if one could know the motives of individuals.Luhmann as an Empirical Sociologist 23 systems one maintains that what is communicated by individuals never coincides with their thoughts: Once thoughts are uttered and understood they become part of communication and therefore underlie communicative rules. p. 259). While the analysis of the real intentions of individuals is not necessary to understand social phenomena. motives change due to circumstances and in different contexts the motives ascribed to a person can vary. p.4 Observing the observer If the conditions of the production of knowledge are not universal. analyze how psychic systems affect communication and on the other side. 4). when the observer wants to observe something as a system. it is meaningful to observe these concrete observers.

p. 123). but also what is left unexpressed. This allows for the observation of the contingency of the observed observers (Nassehi & Saake. In the book Ecological Communication. Causal analysis and systemic functional analysis have an opposed approach to contingency. In the framework of system theory functional analysis can be considered an adequate methodology in order to answer this question (Luhmann. Functional analysis is interested in 10. According to system theory. 1992. 2002). p. But the impossibility of taking into account all variables which are relevant to explain social facts implies a choice (Blalock. 139). As a consequence one can. for example. 268). Marx’s theory) (Luhmann. p. Attention is focused on the utilization of a specific distinction instead of other possible distinctions. 1997. 109). This way one gains the possibility of observing what observers see and what they do not see (Luhmann. the most interesting aspect for system theory is asking why possible interactions do not take place (Luhmann. By the means of this analysis one becomes aware that different observations are based on very specific structures and e.g. Castrignano. in a first step.10 What matters is not the objectivity of the data. (what there is behind) is the distinction used by every different observer (Luhmann.). They tried to interpret the facts on the basis of “what there is behind” (for example. society’s latency.5 The functional method Causal analysis is at the heart of quantitative empirical research. The result is that in spite of the pretension of knowing facts. the main problem of causal analysis is seen in its inability to take the unrealized possibilities of social systems into consideration and the related impossibility of observing the contingency of the actualized ones. 1970. This kind of approach underlies. only a highly selective and contingent combination of the innumerable relevant causes and effects is realized. The choice of highlighting specific causal relations has no correspondence to the environment (Luhmann. 1984. but how a specific observation is constructed. and then analyses their connections on the basis of the cause/effect scheme. for economy only prices and the possibility to gain or to lose money in respect to ecological questions are relevant criteria. 1992b. In order to do this. for example.not for reproduction . 138). p. 39). 1997. 375). In fact. the well-known analysis of ecological communication (Luhmann. 16ff. The classics of sociology had another relationship with empirical research. p. p. better understand why the moral semantic of social movement can hardly influence this system. p. 1993a. not only realized operations. This selection does not trouble system theory. Instead. Copyright (c) Imprint Academic 2005 For personal use only -. and the fact that some information is processed instead of other information. The researcher observing at the second order does not ask what questions (what it is) but how questions (how the world is being observed). how the system limits itself. identifies and isolates variables. instead of observing the destructive consequences of human behavior on the environment and how people are incapable to react adequately to ecological menaces. 1993a. one had to assume that the sociologist always knows more than the text he interprets. p. 2. 1995b. 1990c).24 Cristina Besio and Andrea Pronzini Second-order observation means that the distinction used cannot be treated as an object and has to be modalized (Esposito. Luhmann observes how different systems observe ecological problems. This means that the observation of the distinctions allows us to observe not only what has been told or written. This.

pp. 1993a. neither collecting knowledge on specific sociological themes such as risk or socialization is satisfactory. Different aspects of society can be compared on the basis of a specific “reference problem” which they are able solve. On the other hand. 2000a. but the researcher soon notices that this knowledge has to be updated. As an example we can take the function of producing collective binding decisions which every complex society has to fulfil (Luhmann. 137). they can all act as a cause to reach a specific effect). In other words. in order to gain points of reference to distinguish the important from the unimportant. 1970. a) How can the reader recognize what is actually relevant in scientific texts? Luhmann (2000b. the so-called Zettelkasten (card file). It pursues the identification of contingency and of regularities as two faces of the same coin. 14). These are all forms to show and use power. this function has been fulfilled in different manners.6 Zettelkasten How is the interplay between theory and methods realized? Two interrelated techniques are available: a) a specific way to read scientific texts. Functional analysis does not pretend to know the world as it is. It questions the effect stressing the fact that there are multiple causes which can act as a functional equivalent in producing the observed effect. Historically. and the new from what Copyright (c) Imprint Academic 2005 For personal use only -. but aims to show its contingency. This way functional analysis simultaneously demonstrates the contingency of structures and the unlikelihood of the substitution of functional equivalents. one can hardly gain insight into the relationships between concepts and into the problems discussed in a text if one merely associates knowledge with authors or different “labels” such as system theory or symbolic interactionism (Luhmann 2000b. However. A specific aspect of society can have different causes and the interest of the researcher is not the identification of the probability that a given cause produces a specific effect. p. b) a specific way to organize collected material. p. but the identification of the causes that are functionally equivalent in producing this specific effect (Luhmann. 153-154) rejects two widely used techniques: On the one hand. Through functional analysis the artificiality of what the observed milieu take for granted can be highlighted (Luhmann. 2. They allow people to recognize who has power and therefore can make binding decisions. for example. they all are functionally equivalent in motivating the acceptance of decisions even if these do not appear rational or advantageous. This has the advantage of disclosing the “state of the art” of a topic. struggle or occupation of political offices. if compared with a pure show of strength. 84 ff. p. According to Luhmann: “The problem of reading scientific texts seems to be that one does not need a short term memory. for example through the open demonstration of strength.Luhmann as an Empirical Sociologist 25 comparisons that highlight other possibilities. but instead a long term one. make opposition to political power less probable and therefore assure more stability. functional equivalents cannot simply replace one another. 154).). p. They are functionally equivalent in the solution (in terms of cause/effect. Political offices. She or he can only search for new knowledge as she or he does not activate the necessary instruments in order to exploit the existing one.not for reproduction .

Copyright (c) Imprint Academic 2005 For personal use only -. relating what she or he is reading to what she or he already knows. The underlying epistemological assumptions of constructivism are evident. This means that something can be remembered. 11. All is subsumed to the internal conceptual architecture of the theory. As this process becomes a routine.26 Cristina Besio and Andrea Pronzini has only been repeated” (Luhmann. This way of working assures the simultaneous selfreference and external reference of the theory. 2000b. It reflects the style of reading that has been sketched out above. but reframe what has been read. After a while the researcher who has constructed the file card system has no control over it. one can continue the pre-existing cluster of cards by adding one card and sequentially numbering the new card. but it catches irritations that become information when filtered through the distinctions of the theory. Or a new card can specify a concept of a specific card. and these numbers.11 The file system allows for surprise. The card index invention mirrors a society which is learning a new way of organizing its memory whose primal function is not remembering but forgetting (Cevolini. the connections it shapes are not decided by the researcher. will never be changed. The way the file card answers. At the level of procedure this can be done by making notes which primarily do not quote or summarize the text. 2004).. When the researcher reads texts which relate to reflections already written down in the past. to forget is a necessary step in order to develop knowledge when a society becomes complex. The mechanism is quite simple: The information retrieved is put down on paper cards to which a number is attributed. one has to build up connections between the ideas one has written down on cards. System theory makes a second-order observation of scientific statements in order to grasp insights that activate its own distinctions. as the card file grows. That is. distinctions. One has to build a memory that makes it possible to selectively pick up information and make new connections.not for reproduction . between card 1/3 and card 1/4 one can put a card numbered 1/3a). A card file without internal reference between cards would not allow for the construction of a complex memory. As a result. this can strengthen some ideas but also lead to the rejection of others. pp. It is not aimed at storing information about authors. Obviously. An important task is keeping the position and the number attributed to cards fixed. This means that the availability of complex distinctions and concepts is the condition which enables the theory to observe the findings of others.g. b) The information gained should also be properly stored. Each further card becomes progressively another number. However. but a lot of information gets lost. already examined empirical findings. This can be realized by using the file card system of Luhmann. so that it can be inserted among the sequential cards (e. and the position in the card box as well. 154-155). one is also forced to make internal references. one also needs another file card with alphabetically ordered concepts that refer to specific cards of the main file card. For example. The researcher has to read in a selective manner: she or he must be guided by her or his own problems. That way. empirical studies can provoke surprise or doubts about specific theoretical statements. theories or sociological topics. what will be written down will be only the readers own ideas (that come to mind while reading).

1994. In order to collect and analyze data it is possible to resort to methods developed within other frameworks.7 A variety of methods: The examples of conversation analysis As we have already mentioned in the chapters on the analysis of trivialities and secondary analysis.g. and only if. 52). they are compatible with the theoretical and methodological premises of system theory. these premises should be also taken into consideration when the researcher collects the data him/herself. the choice of the sources is guided by theory and theory can suggest that some methods are more appropriate than others. available data. that is to say. 1992). p. Moreover. Also. Nevertheless. administrative bodies. 2006. they share the idea that social 12.. For example. In the works of Luhmann the use of available data is very important. An interesting example is the use of techniques of conversation analysis (e. This means that available data can be used if. in courts. In other words: In order to formulate scientific sentences one has to reach a fit between theoretical descriptions and data which have been constructed through empirical observation. Baraldi. 1992).g. Also in this case. his analysis of time semantics does not refer only to secondary sources such as literature or historical studies. In order to show the compatibility between theoretical reflections and empirical observations Belege are presented as examples. Lee. system theory stresses the importance of tightly fitting concepts (Ziegert. but also refers to or directly cites source documents. 2007). However. can be used with selective sight of the theory.Luhmann as an Empirical Sociologist 27 2. In fact Luhmann’s analyses of historical sources are of this type. For example. In particular. while observing organizations Luhmann employs descriptions which are comparable to thick (qualitative) empirical observations in the framework of ethnomethodology. one has to show that communication chains which have the characteristics foreseen by the hypothesis can be observed.not for reproduction . The observation must follow methodological rules which are considered valid in a discipline. the setting of deadlines or the relevance of changes of personnel. for example on specific semantics. the difference between internal and external descriptions of organizations etc. Obviously. 2002. Nassehi & Saake. data can be also collected and analyzed ex novo specifically starting from system theory. It has been argued that conversation analysis can be suitable for system theory because they share some important premises (Hausendorf. From the perspective of the participant observer he describes decision processes for example. Castrignano. there are no obstacles when searching for a connection to other empirical traditions (Vogd. in this case a match with the theoretical and methodological premises of system theory is needed. 2003. Bora. and universities. Once the methodological pillars are identified.. both quantitative and qualitative. 2006. Hausendorf & Bora 2006). Some researchers have already tried this (e. the importance of concepts which fit with methodologically guided observations. Copyright (c) Imprint Academic 2005 For personal use only -.12 Starting from theoretical hypothesis. showing that the semantics of the 17th century begin to consider the “present” as a punctual event some verses of the famous English author and poet John Donne are cited as are reflections from a treatise of the theologian Francois Senault.

and so forth. Starting from Luhmann’s definition of the role of theory and methods in science.g. The sequence of these units is the base from which to follow the unfolding of communication over time. The consequence is that most research is conducted outside of an encompassing theoretical framework. These are considered as contingent products of communication processes and therefore their development has to be explained. linguistic or non-verbal forms are used. They analyze how this construction develops. structures reduce complexity and make autopoiesis possible. This fine analysis leads to “reconstructing social constructions” (Hausendorf and Bora. Instruments of semantic. which arguments are used... Rather than looking for latent structures (non-observable givens). Chains of communication are observed and not individuals. p. Hausendorf and Bora (2006). The authors resort to procedures of sequential analysis that allow the identification of subunits which the researcher can concentrate on. analyze how citizenship is communicatively constructed in citizenship talks. an observation which has the pretence to be scientific cannot neglect empirical data or theory.. An important message of Luhmann is the following: theory can help to gain relevant information from data. etc. in order to define membership to a specific group or category. an amount of case studies and statistical analyses are available but lack proper interpretation. accentuation of category belonging through forms such as the contrast between categories: “First of all we are citizens then we are researchers”). p. for example. The emphasis on theory in Luhmann’s texts can be explained referring to a contingent situation of modern sociology. for example. pragmatic and linguistic analysis allow the researchers to analyze which kind of statements are expressed. clarification of category belonging through forms such as: “to be a ..not for reproduction . which words. how the use of words or the reference to categories changes over time.”) and to investigate which functional equivalent could be used instead (e. politicians. doctors. we argue that system theory is structurally bound to empirical research. 2006.. Starting from this consideration one can analyze how social structures originate from these processes and shape them. The meaning of an utterance is not determined by an actor. Theory can shed new light on well-known phenomena by Copyright (c) Imprint Academic 2005 For personal use only -.). 124).. The theoretical framework also allows investigation into the function of specific procedures or devices used by participants (e. 2000. by observing.g..” or “to come from . Luhmann felt that the discipline shows an unbalanced relationship between theory and methods and that methods are ranked much higher than theory.28 Cristina Besio and Andrea Pronzini structures are a result of communication processes which operate in a self-referential way. but is seen as the result of “a meaning attributional process sequentially and retrospectively realized by the utterance(s) following next to a preceding one” (Schneider.g. those distinctions which are used in order to observe are the object of the search. 88). Conclusion In opposition to a widespread assumption. for example. how new participants are introduced or which relevance is attributed to specific groups (e. Once established.

Rusch and S. C. Copyright (c) Imprint Academic 2005 For personal use only -. 385-397. Nassehi. Zum Verhältnis von Systemtheorie und objektiver Hermeneutik. Castrignano. Die Beobachtung von Theorien und Methoden. Sprach. 52). 5 (2). While empirical methods generate a huge variety of data. but also the necessity of data. It is evident that this is a task which empirical research cannot accomplish alone. 14 (2-3). Schmidt (Eds. This strong interplay of theory and methods is also what allows for testing the results of system theory research: Because the proof cannot be sought in the correspondence with an external reality. References Baraldi. Sociologia della comunicazione. Frankfurt a. Soziale Systeme. without a link to data. (2007). Bologna: Il Mulino. but also further application and refinement of methods for system theory are promising research tasks for the near future. Interkulturelle Mediation in der Grenzregion. Blalock. Parsons e N. & Pronzini. (1994). Busch (Ed. not only the development of theory. (2006). Applying Luhmann’s system theory as part of a transdisciplinary frame for communication science. M. The possibility of describing facts with the help of different concepts. London: Sage. Frankfurt: Peter Lang. A. not the theory alone. H.) Konstruktivismus und Sozialtheorie. Boudon.und kulturwissenschaftliche Analysen triadischer Interaktionsformen im interkulturellen Kontakt (pp.M. R. theory would remain an abstract description lacking plausibility. (1996). As a consequence.. of presenting data in a different manner by referring to other distinctions. The knowledge produced by empirical research. pp. 225-250). Luhmann (Parte seconda). 282-330. Metodologia della ricerca sociologica. (1990). In G. Then it is the structural coupling that determines if the knowledge so produced will be tolerated by the environment—or whether it will not. Baugh. 2006. This statement underlies the relevance of theory. (1992). (1984)..: Suhrkamp.Luhmann as an Empirical Sociologist 29 offering improbable but conceptually justified comparisons. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Acknowledgment We would like to thank the editor of C&HK Søren Brier and two anonymous reviewers for their comments which have helped us improve our argumentation. Bora. Antwort auf. the internal consistency and mutual refinement of theory and methods is what assures the scientific proof. The methodology of Herbert Blumer. In D. Brier. remains merely as knowledge which refers to portions of society. Besio. A. The tight fit between methodologically observed phenomena and the concepts which capture them is central. The interplay of theory and methods is particularly important in order to accomplish the main tasks of sociology: the description of society. A. even if remarkable in its quantity and its variability. not so much ‘theory building’ as producing ‘good science’” (Ziegert. Konstruktion und Rekonstruktion. Il rapporto tra teoria e riferimento empirico: riflessioni in merito ad alcune opere di T. Cybernetics & Human Knowing. Diversity and adaptation in intercultural mediation. “The objective of the enterprise is . However. Basic dilemmas in the social sciences. p. K. As methods rule the process of defining a proposition as true or false. 9 (17). observation with the help of a complex theory allows for properly connecting data and interpreting many contexts. (1999).not for reproduction . Collection and evaluation of data are not enough. M. is crucial.). S. C.. 29-65. Jr. a theory which avoids the connection to methods would lose its connection to scientific development. 131-153.

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